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Operational understanding of the covariance of classical electrodynamics

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It is common in the literature on classical electrodynamics and relativity theory that the transformation rules for the basic electrodynamic quantities are derived from the pre-assumption that the equations of electrodynamics are covariant against these—unknown—transformation rules. There are several problems to be raised concerning these derivations. This is, however, not our main concern in this paper. Even if these derivations are regarded as unquestionable, they leave open the following fundamental question: Are the so-obtained transformation rules indeed identical with the true transformation laws of the empirically ascertained electrodynamic quantities? This is of course an empirical question. In this paper, we will answer this question in a purely theoretical framework by applying what Bell calls “Lorentzian pedagogy”—according to which the laws of physics in any one reference frame account for all physical phenomena, including what a moving observer must see when performs measurement operations with moving measuring devices. We will show that the real transformation laws are indeed identical with the ones obtained by presuming the covariance of the equations of electrodynamics, and that the covariance is indeed satisfied. Beforehand, however, we need to clarify the operational definitions of the fundamental electrodynamic quantities. As we will see, these semantic issues are not as trivial as one might think.
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Keywords: Covariance of Classical Electrodynamics; Empirical Verification of the Transformation Rule; Maxwell‐Lorentz Equations; Operationalism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 17 September 2013

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  • Physics Essays has been established as an international journal dedicated to theoretical and experimental aspects of fundamental problems in Physics and, generally, to the advancement of basic knowledge of Physics. The Journal's mandate is to publish rigorous and methodological examinations of past, current, and advanced concepts, methods and results in physics research. Physics Essays dedicates itself to the publication of stimulating exploratory, and original papers in a variety of physics disciplines, such as spectroscopy, quantum mechanics, particle physics, electromagnetic theory, astrophysics, space physics, mathematical methods in physics, plasma physics, philosophical aspects of physics, chemical physics, and relativity.
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